The show, don\u2019t tell mantra haunts every writer, no matter how long they\u2019ve been around. But what does it mean? It\u2019s the used and abused phrase that truth is lost among endless repetitions.\r\n\r\nImagine you shared your most recent story with a friend and asked for their honest advice. Imagine if your friend said something like, \u201cGreat job, but I think it needs some work. Perhaps you need to work more on showing, not telling\u201d.\r\n\r\nUnless your friend goes on to point out stilted or superfluous passages and discuss specifics, those 3 syllables just don\u2019t suffice as constructive criticism. As writers we need to know more, explore more, experiment more.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nWhile this quick guide isn\u2019t the easy-peasy formula for fantastic writing (since that formula doesn\u2019t exist), this is an exploration of a few ways to craft more compelling stories. Follow these steps to show more, tell less and inspire your readers always.\r\nSee life through your characters\u2019 eyes\r\nA large part of the show, don\u2019t tell philosophy centres on harnessing the senses. With the right kind of sensory description, a series of events can become a riveting scene that throws the reader head-first into the action.\r\n\r\nFor example, rather than saying your character is scared, describe the slick feel of sweaty palms, the tightening of the chest, the sound of the gun trigger as the masked assailant aims for the head, the smell of cigarette smoke, the glint of steel capped boots in the moonlight your character notices because he can\u2019t bear to look up and stare down the barrel of the gun.\r\n\r\nGreat writing transports readers into a new world. Mark Twain\u2019s age old advice says it all.\r\n\r\nNaming the different emotions your characters are feeling is often unnecessary. Their very actions speak for themselves. In the following passage from Jhumpa Lahiri\u2019s The Lowland, the actions of the two children demonstrate the paralysing fear they\u2019re experiencing.\r\n\u201cTogether, pressed against one another, they braced themselves. Their heads were lowered, their eyes closed, Subhash still reeling from pain. But nothing more happened. They heard the sound of the putting iron being tossed over the wall, landing a final time inside the club. Then the policeman, who wanted nothing more to do with them, retreating.\u201d\r\nThe children have closed their eyes, therefore the narration doesn\u2019t put us in their shoes, but rather in the shoes of onlookers. We see their fear in every painful movement.\r\n\r\nUsing 3rd person narration allows you the freedom of weaving together different perspectives into a cohesive story. If you find yourself using sentences like \u201che was terrified\u201d or \u201cshe was happier than ever\u201d too often, then experiment with different perspectives.\r\n\r\nUsually we can tell if others around us are happy, nervous, impatient or angry. Imagine those visual cues in their body language and use them to show the emotions of a character to the reader.\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cDon\u2019t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.\u201d \u2014Anton Chekhov\r\nIn the same way, don\u2019t tell the reader your characters are happy, sad, fearful or excited. Another human sense to harness is the sense of touch. Instead of using emotional qualifiers, describe the feel of slick sweaty palms, of puffy eyes after a long cry, of an aching throat holding back a sob. Show the reader the smiles, the silence, the wide eyes, the involuntary humming.\r\n\r\nOf course there are five senses to experiment with. Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste all have a way of making scenes more authentic and vivid. From the spicy aromas of a mother\u2019s cooking to the choked up racket of a car failing to start, the senses are the way which we see the world and see the world through the perspective of the characters.\r\nAvoid adverbs at all costs\r\nThe conflict between writer and adverb is a never ending battle. No doubt many writers continue to wield the humble adverb with precision, yet adverbs remain the enemy because in many cases they\u2019re indicative of a writer telling, not showing.\r\n\u201cDon\u2019t tell readers what to feel. Show them the situation, and that feeling will awaken within them.\u201d \u2014 Natalie Goldberg\r\n\r\n\r\nWhether the story includes \u201cMary was angry. She threw the plate onto the floor\u201d or \u201cMary angrily threw the plate onto the floor\u201d, the effect is the same. The reader understands that Mary\u2019s actions are in anger and recognises, however subconsciously, the authorial voice.\r\n\r\nFurthermore, adverbs often repeat what can already be understand from the surrounding text. While it is possible Mary, in the above example, was throwing a plate onto the ground in joy, it was most likely in anger. If, for example, Mary\u2019s scene was preceded by a fight with a friend, then the context provides more engaging storytelling than a superfluous \u201cangrily\u201d. There\u2019s no need to tell the reader at this point that she\u2019s angry.\r\n\r\nOn the other hand, adverbs can be useful, especially to move the story along with summary or time compression. Also, since many people today often use adverbs like \u201cliterally\u201d and \u201cactually\u201d, using those words in dialogue would be useful to mimic modern speech.\r\n\r\nDespite their uses, adverbs are a slippery slope to telling, not showing. For the next time you\u2019re working on a draft, try removing all the adverbs as an experiment. Be critical in removing as many as you can, and rewriting what you must.\r\n\r\n\r\nExperiment with the balance between show and tell\r\nThere are probably few stories in which a writer never uses \u201ctelling\u201d phrases. Sometimes it\u2019s necessary or right to tell the reader, \u201che was frightened\u201d, \u201cthe moon shone\u201d, \u201cshe hated the snow\u201d, or anything else. The art is in knowing when to show and when to tell, in order to captivate the reader.\r\n\r\nAuthor Joshua Henkin makes the valid argument that just because you\u2019re showing, doesn\u2019t mean your writing is all that great or original. For example, he compares the sentence \u201cShe was nervous\u201d with \u201cShe bit her fingernail\u201d. While they\u2019re both obvious attempts at showing vs. telling, the 2nd uses a \u201cgeneric gesture of anxiety\u201d.\r\n\r\nThese cliche traps, like any over dependence on telling, can transform an otherwise interesting story into a dull series of events. Forget phrases like "thick as thieves" and "dead as a doornail".\r\n\r\nHowever no story is unsalvageable.\u00a0The writing process is all about experimentation, determination and creativity. Great writing is just the eventual product.